Why don’t abused dogs turn on and attack their abusive owners?

The reason why I have asked the question in the title is because I see too many dog rescue videos in which the narrative is that the dog has been abused by their previous owner. The dog has been rescued and is going through a rehabilitation process with kind people. And then suddenly, like switching a switch, the abused dog comes out of their deeply entrenched shell and starts to love on the people who are helping her. The dog in the video below is described as a ‘cuddler’. She wants to cuddle her human companions and has done so all her life but in her previous life she could never express it.

She just wants to love on everybody now she's been saved from her abusive owner
She just wants to love on everybody now she’s been saved from her abusive owner. Screenshot.

It’s like a flower opening up in springtime. It blossoms and blooms and radiates colour and beauty. The female dog in the video cowered in a cage for five days after her rescue before she crept out for some food and a gentle touch by her rescuers. And then she suddenly finds her spirit and her voice when with people who care and love her.

But the question in the title is, I think, pertinent because it is clear to me that on a number of occasions and perhaps in more than half the cases of dog abuse the dogs do not bite back at their abusive owner. They become accepting victims almost like abused women in a dysfunctional marriage.

And the only reason why this happens as far as I can see is because the owner is the alpha dog in the pack. They are the leader and the domestic dog companion is a pack member. They look up to the leader for leadership. And if the leader attacks them and is abusive towards them, they will tend to accept it because of this underlying, hierarchical relationship.

Note: eventually the video will stop working. If that has happened, I am sorry but I don’t control its existence.

The relationship protects the abusive human and victimises the dog who is somewhat programmed to accept abuse. Years ago, I can remember a story about a dog that allowed their owner to kill them. And that has stuck with me ever since.

That is not to say that some dogs don’t respond by attacking their owner. But it seems to me that most attacks by dogs on their owner is not because their owner is attacking them and being abusive towards them but because their owner is not an alpha individual. It is because the owner is not taking responsibility to be the leader of the pack. They have lost control. The dog needs a leader and if they aren’t they become a pack member and open to attack.

In a similar example, about four years ago I was bitten by a dog when I walked past a woman with three dogs. One of them, a black Scotty simply lurched at me and bit my knee. It was totally unprovoked. The reason, in my assessment, was that the woman was not in charge of her three dogs. She was struggling with them. She was too mild-mannered and simply was not taking up the role of alpha dog and so there was a certain amount of chaos.

And a recent very well publicised and reported story in the news media of a dog walker with a large number of dogs caused a lot of consternation because the biggest dog in that group attacked a passing woman as I recall who was also walking her dog. And my assessment of that was that the dog walker had to many dogs and was simply was unable to control them. The biggest dog in the pack took control and decided that they were the leader and by that, I mean the leader of the other dog and the dog walker. They related to the other woman, the victim, as a threat to his pack and attacked her.

But ultimately abused dogs always seem to come out of their shell and learn to trust humans again. On second thoughts perhaps not always. This too is probably down to the desire to trust and respond positively to the pack leader.

Buddy, a horrifically abused dog is now a welfare dog supporting traumatised police officers

Dog doesn’t trust humans but does trust dogs

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Speciesism - 'them and us' | Cruelty - always shameful
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